The Amarillo Symphony orchestra decided to try something new this year. Well, actually there are several things new this year, one of which has me more curious about the structural engineering than about the music, but the ASO decided to try a Holiday Pops concert, with music ranging from a popular sing-along to classical to modern classical (“Sleigh-ride,” a John Rutter choral anthem), and more. The conductor, Jacomo Bairos, was rather surprised when everyone in the audience stood for the “Halleluia” from Messiah, but then he’s from Latin America, likely raised Catholic, and wasn’t familiar with that quirk of English and US Protestantism. One of the modern pieces was . . . different. Good different, but different.
The title is “Chanukah 5776,” or Chanukah 2015 (western dating) because of when it was composed. The composer, Samuel Hyken, is a friend of the conductor. The piece is, well, I’d call it an exploration of the American Jewish experience through music. That may not be what the composer intends, but that’s what I heard.
It begins with some chords and nods toward Klezmer music, then a solo violin section that reminded me of a cantor. The melody is strong and minor, very much what I would call Ashkenazi-sounding. It is not sad, but has sadness in it as well as strength. And then the orchestra erupts into a dance, still minor, but full of life and joyful, with a few more Klezmer measures.
The next section made me think of Mannheim Steamroller Does Chanukah, (think Mannheim Steamroller’s “Carol of the Bells” when the brass comes in)* with an electric bass foundation, drum set percussion, upbeat, a bit majestic and very strong. That fades away into a theme that could have been straight out of Gershwin, maybe you’d call it “New York Chanukah, 1950s style”, then more strong, open chords that sound like the American Midwest, a rich land, prosperous and peaceful. The music slows down, ending with different instruments passing around the melody of “I had a little Dreidel.” I almost sang along, except for the microphone right beside me (the concert was recorded for broadcast next year.)
I do not believe the piece has been recorded for sale. If someone does record this, I’m going to try to buy a copy.